South Park: “Informative Murder Porn”
B+

South Park: “Informative Murder Porn”

B+

South Park

“Informative Murder Porn”

Season 17, Episode 2

Coming off a hit-and-miss season premiere in which South Park took aim at the NSA, “Informative Murder Porn” keeps the satire local, social, and more consistently amusing in its second week. There are not a lot of twists and turns to this episode: Once you understand the premise, there’s not much in the way of new comedic invention throughout the installment. But there’s a whole lot of Randy Marsh, who’s been one of the show’s most consistently funny characters over the years. So that’s a big reason why this is a big step up from the premiere. This wasn’t on par with something like “Broadway Bro Down” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a solid outing all the same.

The premise is simple: The episode flips normal concerns about the psychological effects of consuming certain entertainment on its head by making the children worried about what shows their parents are watching. Apparently, documentary programs that feature recreations of grisly marital violence (dubbed “murder porn” by the children) have increased in popularity with the citizens’ parents. Why? Because the lineup of shows on networks such as Investigation Discovery, A&E, and Oxygen is sending these adults into a sexual frenzy. The children worry that watching such programs will carry over into in real life, and those worries are realized when a husband in town brutally murders his wife in a similar manner to a murder depicted in one of these shows.

To combat this, Stan introduces an app that serves as reverse-engineered parental controls. Rather than adults dictating what children watch, the kids block the appropriate channels with passwords only understood by those that play the video game Minecraft. “What is Minecraft and how do you tame a horse in it?” begs Randy, desperately covering up the erection obtained moments earlier by watching Southern Fried Homicide. The parents soon find a means to learn the game through Cory Lanskin, a child who agrees to teach them the rules of the game for “100 silver pieces.” None of the adults understand how the game works, but soon fall under its spell regardless. Not only do they spend hours in the game, but they also start punching trees in their own backyards and erecting fortresses in and around public buildings.

The Minecraft stuff is silly (having played only a cursory amount, I am glad I’ve never got sucked into it, because holy hell I don’t sleep enough as it is), but the real attacks in “Informative Murder Porn” are saved for cable companies and the nanny state. Neither antagonist is particularly new to the world of the show, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen members of a cable company rub their nipples in sexual delight quite as much as those on display in this episode. Anyone who has ever wished for a la carte service in their cable package probably wanted to throttle the smug employees as they protested how much they wanted to decouple certain cable packages, but simply couldn’t. In the end, in response to Stan’s earnest plea to prevent his parents from murdering each other, the cable company comes up with a brilliant business plan: They take the “murder porn” channels off the normal package, but offer them at a higher tier of payment. (Along with 300 additional channels, all in Portuguese. Naturally.)

Where this episode really lands is in the earnest yet knowingly futile attempts that the children make in order to keep their parents safe. They know that the odds of Sexy Betrayals directly inspiring an actual murder are low. They know that their folks will find ways to work around restrictions put upon them. And yet, these kids try anyway, not as a form of principled countermoves but because doing nothing would overtly admit defeat and place an almost unbearable moral guilt upon them. The episode never comes out and says any of this, which represents some remarkable restraint for Trey Parker and Matt Stone. But it’s there all the same.

(Also there? The idea that every marriage has at least a little violence between the partners that needs a release valve in order to keep things sane. Which is… yeah, let’s not go to into that topic here. I’m sure you’ll cover it in-depth below in the comments.)

“People are going to do what they want to do,” this episode says, “even if we act in their best interests. Moreover, even though a small fraction will always do awful things, there’s no way to really stop them, no matter how many preventative measures we install.” The episode makes it clear that the man who murdered his wife simply used “murder porn” as a cover, rather than a motivation. So, in actuality, the Minecraft password controls just make life harder for couples looking to spice up their marriage without adding murder to the mix. When coupled with “Let Go, Let Guv,” one can see an early thematic pattern emerging in this season: People and agencies spend an enormous amount of time trying to police the activity of others, even if that activity isn’t illegal, and the results aren’t much different than if they did nothing at all.

Again: This is nothing new for South Park, but I think it’s wrong to look at this viewpoint as either anti-establishment or hopelessly cynically. Rather, South Park generally posits that it would be really nice to simply trust people to live their own lives, if only people weren’t stupid enough to constantly earn the mutual distrust of each other. Trying to stave off their own impulses will simply displace, not disperse, those desires. And who is to say what makes those impulses inherently “bad” or “good”? It’s a constant struggle, and one that South Park constantly confronts. Randy and Sharon are okay for now. But the show constantly checks back in on them, season after season, just to make sure they are still okay.

Stray observations:

  • Loving the new opening credits, which look straight out of Final Fantasy VII.
  • A more likely target for analyzing the effects of violence in video games would have been something like Call Of Duty, but I like that the show even found bloody content in a seemingly harmless game like Minecraft.
  • Not much Cartman this week, but the constant boo’ing of Wendy made me laugh each time.
  • Likewise, each invocation of Jaden Smith was gold. Then again, Randy Marsh in general is pretty much gold. His answer to Cory’s question, “How do you get wood?” was probably the comedic highlight of the night.
  • Dear Randy: Apparently this is a Magma Cube. Though I suppose you know that by now.
  • “The customer is always our bitch.” Well, I think we can all relate to that.